The Tides in Our Veins
One of the most evocative trips I can remember taking as a young woman was a four-day escapade to Carmel, California. I was a newly minted poet, or so I thought I could dare call myself such being inspired as I was by my college professors and the heroes they put on their syllabi. One of the standouts for me during the semester before I headed west was Robinson Jeffers, who had fallen head-over-heels in love with a stretch of the California coastline near the town I would be visiting and its frothy tides. He and his wife Una described the effect of the land they finally claimed as their own as enchanting. I fell just as hard for that undulant sweep of rocky shoreline.
Poet Robinson Jeffers in Carmel
The Jeffers rented a log cabin in Carmel before purchasing a plot of land on Carmel Point three years later. Robin, as friends and family called him, was so enamored with the rough sea-washed granite rocks cascading down to the Pacific he asked a local mason to allow him to apprentice so he could learn the art of stonemasonry.
Then he set about building a stone cottage—Tor House—for his family.
This is one of the things I respect so much about him: he was as elemental in his life as he was in his poetry, the waves becoming his muse and the soaring hawk such an inspiration in its winged freedom he would build a high stone tower to pay homage to the raptor.
As I write this, I feel the nostalgia for that legendary coastline pulling at me, memories of spending hours beachcombing there flooding forth.
I have sea glass and shells from every sandy stretch of the earth I’ve ever visited, and I relive those trips often through the mementos of the ocean’s foamy depths I’ve brought home.
They bring me solace until I can once again trek to where I can hear the water’s calming whispering.
Currey & Company Influenced by the Tides
This desire for that elemental murmuring is why I am always on the lookout for furnishings that draw inspiration from the sea. I was very excited when I came across a number of exquisite new introductions in the Currey & Company summer releases, which I feel reflect the splendor of the ocean’s greatest gifts.
I’ve always been curious about how pieces with such demanding detailing as the Deveraux Console and Mirror (shown above; from a previous collection) are crafted so I asked Bethanne Matari to share with Improvateur’s readers when seashells and other elemental accents first came into the Currey & Company product-line. She explained they first appeared in 1998. When the Grotto Chandelier (below) was one of their first shell-encrusted introductions.
This stunningly elegant fixture remained in the company’s offerings for over 12 years and was covered by all the major design magazines at the height of its popularity. The inclusion of nautical elements was a natural for the manufacturer because its founder Robert Currey has always loved shells.
I asked the company’s creative director Cecil Adams to explain how these artisanal furnishings are created and to share with us the inspiration behind their designs. “All of our shell items are completely done by hand so each and every tiny shell is placed one by one—for larger items, there could be as many as four people working on the same piece at once.” he says. “Our design team in the Philippines will take an idea and actually create it on site in our factory using all the available shells. As they come up with a pattern for a particular piece of furniture, they record the process and keep an original sample there so it can be reproduced accurately.”
He believes it’s the versatility of furnishings ornamented with the ocean’s offerings that make them so popular: “The tones of shell surfaces work with almost any color combination and tend to reflect the aura of the hues around them, making them a very versatile natural material. Elements of nature are welcome in any style of interior, and shells complement everything from contemporary to traditional.”
This also goes for the tumbled glass offerings Currey & Company creates, the elegant furnishings calling to mind the beach-glass that glints from the water’s edge as the waves ebb, drying to a velvety matte smoothness once removed from the sea’s wetness. The Shoreline pendant is one of the new offerings, the wrought iron and glass fixture shown with a Harlow silver-leaf finish.
The Bayou chandelier is another, the wrought iron and glass fixture shown with a contemporary gold leaf finish. One of my favorite fixtures incorporating glass is the Medusa, below, with its fluid and delicate profile that imitates one of the ocean’s most graceful creatures, the jellyfish.
“Shells, tumbled glass and mother of pearl bring a divine natural glow to interiors whether their presence is in the form of a collection displayed in a cabinet of curiosities, or a fabulous shell encrusted console table, chest, or over-the-top wall accent,” Cecil remarks. “In shells themselves, there is a world of inspiration—who doesn’t like idea of strolling along the beach and discovering that one beautiful piece that will be a marker for remembering that moment in time?”
I certainly do, as the photo of only a few of my beachcombing treasures at the end of this post proves.
A hallmark of the company’s continual push for greater creativity—and, to be honest, a bit of a surprise for me when I first saw them—are the pieces Currey & Company makes with oyster shells.
Bethanne points out how these former homes of bivalve mollusks bring her childhood to mind. “These shells played a big part in my southern heritage,” she said. “Growing up in eastern North Carolina, oyster shells were used like gravel in driveways and on garden paths. I also remember many concrete walls made with imbedded oyster shells down on the coast so I always think of them as a very southern thing.”
I also remember seeing the shells embedded in concrete walls when we would vacation on the northern Florida coast when I was a girl.
It’s quite handy that oyster shells are plentiful in the Philippines, and used there for driveways and pathways as well, don’t you think? Describing the moment Currey & Company began including oyster shells in their designs, Cecil says, “At some point we decided to begin creating mirror frames, lamps and chandeliers with them. Because we were already using other shells, it was just a natural progression. Once the idea really took off with customers, we continued designing more items with them.”
Seeing the new introductions made with them this season—the Stillwater pendant and the Oyster Bay table lamp—it’s clear why he can say, “We’re quite successful with just about anything we put an oyster shell on! We use the outside of the shell for a more primitive feel and the inside for more sophisticated applications.”
Though it doesn’t surprise him that they’ve created a popular line of furnishings with oyster shells, there is one thing about these creatures that remains a conundrum in his eyes: “I’ve always wondered who was the first person to actually decide to eat one!” I concur, as does Bethanne, who quips that the individual was either a very brave soul or a very hungry one.
The Currey & Company shell offerings are not limited to lighting and furniture. Their Sailors’ Valentines are intricate pieces of elemental wall art. Bethanne shared with me the fact that the company’s library holds an array of informative books the creative team uses for inspiration for their designs, one of them being a history of how the designs of Sailors’ Valentines have progressed over time.
The Poetry of Robinson Jeffers
Learning of Robert Currey’s desire to bring the ocean’s elemental beauty into his product offerings, such as the Marchmont sideboard above, and the nautical artfulness the creative team has continued to practice over the past nearly two decades since then brings me back around to how beautifully Jeffers wrote about the seaside milieu he lived within and the passion he felt for the landscape. Many of his poems contain at least a hint of it:
In Divinely Superfluous Beauty, he wrote:
The storm-dances of gulls, the barking game
Over and under the ocean…
Divinely superfluous beauty
Rules the games, presides over destinies,
makes trees grow
And hills tower, waves fall.
The incredible beauty of joy […]
In Continent’s End, one of his most notable poems, he wrote:
At the equinox when the earth was veiled in a late rain,
wreathed with wet poppies, waiting spring,
The ocean swelled for a far storm and beat its boundary,
the ground-swell shook the beds of granite […]
Farther into the heart of the poem, he crafted one of my favorite lines: “The tides are in our veins”—the sentiment swirling around in me as I crunched along the pebble-strewn sand during my Carmel excursion. It was as if Jeffers’ cadence permeated the air with a similar ebbing and flowing as the water rolling ashore. I closed my eyes and tried to internalize the incantation of the waves, a chant that felt archetypal as the breakers crashed into the rocky coastline.
I walked through the watery surroundings feeling the misty air on my face and knew something charged lurked in the air. I felt it again when I caught a glimpse of the stone buildings he’d built with his own hands—now a beautifully maintained legacy thanks to his twin sons and the Tor House Foundation, the compound added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
I offered an expression of gratitude for the divinely superfluous beauty he brought into the world through his poetry and his activism. He was truly an important agent of change, a role that caused him to be ostracized for much of his life. As I explore literary history and and read the stories about the lives my heroes, I’m beginning to wonder if this is the fate of most writers.
If you haven’t explored his writing, his poetry is excellent for a summer reading list since so many of his verses hold oceanic themes. And this is a wonderful documentary about his philosophy and his impact on his times if you have 20 minutes to watch it:
If you are fortunate enough to be in either Dallas or Atlanta for summer market, you’ll get an early look at the new Currey & Company shell and tumbled-glass introductions. Make your way to the Dallas showroom on the 10th floor of the World Trade Center in suite 10000 between June 24th and 30th if you are in town. The Atlanta showroom is on the 14th floor of the AmericasMart Building 1 in suite 14F10. The offerings will be on view there between July 7th and 14th. If you go, share your image of your favorite seashore-inspired piece with me on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest or Facebook, would you? You can always see the company’s new introductions in their High Point showroom during market twice each year, as well.
The Modern Salonnière and this literary design encounter © Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon Henry is an author, poet and strategist. Her books include Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns.